By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 16, 2009
To accuse a Virginian politician of turning his back on Martinsville, the beleaguered Southside mill town whose unemployment rate hit 21.6 percent in June, is almost like a slur.
But that's what the gubernatorial campaign of state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D) did last week, saying that Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert F. McDonnell "stood against the workers in the area when textile plants shut down and left nearly 3,000 workers jobless."
As a former delegate, McDonnell voted against "a bipartisan emergency relief package" that would have provided enhanced benefits for laid-off Martinsville textile workers, the Deeds campaign said.
The allegation is accurate -- but also deserves some context.
It's true that the Textile Workers Relief Act of 2000 attracted some bipartisan support. McDonnell was not listed as a co-sponsor.
The bill, designed to aid thousands of laid-off workers, would have increased unemployment benefits and extended coverage in regions with more than 10 percent unemployment -- namely, Martinsville. But the bill died on an 11 to 11 committee vote in the House.
Southside lawmakers then put forward budget amendments to help the region.
Then-Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) argued that such a narrowly targeted benefit was not fair to other unemployed Virginians. He proposed economic development grants for Martinsville and other hard-hit areas but was unsuccessful.
So Gilmore vetoed the budget amendment altogether. McDonnell voted for Gilmore's proposal.
"Bob was extremely sympathetic to the plight of those who lost their jobs in Martinsville. . . . He felt then, as he does now, that we need to approach these issues as a Commonwealth," spokesman Tucker Martin said.
SOURCES: Legislative Information Services; Richmond Times Dispatch, May 20, 2000